Why #ItsTHATWorthIt to Me to Protect My Skin

By Lauren Leiman
Senior Director, Marketing and Development

This summer, L’Oréal Paris, in partnership with the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA), is asking women everywhere to demonstrate why it’s imperative to protect their skin, beauty, and life through the #ItsTHATWorthIt social media campaign. To help kick off the campaign, L’Oréal hosted two events – one in Los Angeles and one in Miami – attended by celebrities, influential bloggers, and those affected by melanoma. I had the pleasure of representing MRA at these recent events.

MRA's Lauren Leiman and Diane Keaton.

MRA’s Lauren Leiman and Diane Keaton.

I sat alongside L’Oréal spokeswomen and actresses, Diane Keaton and Génesis Rodríguez, as well as celebrity aesthetician Vanessa Hernandez, dermatologist Flor Mayoral, and L’Oréal executives Danielle Macaluso and Malena Higuera. Diane and Génesis shared their personal experiences with skin cancer and how their encounters with the disease have positively impacted their daily beauty and health regimens. We discussed the importance of raising awareness of melanoma and ways to prevent the disease, such as wearing sunscreen every day.

Melanoma is the most common cancer diagnosed in women 25-29 years old, and for Latinos, rates have risen about 20 percent in the last 20 years. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released information last week showing that the number of cases of melanoma has doubled in the last 30 years, and it is predicted cases will continue to rise over the next 15 years.

Now more than ever, #ItsTHATWorthIt to help spread the word about the dangers of melanoma – and how you can protect yourself!

In addition to generating awareness, the #ItsTHATWorthIt program also raises funding to support year three of the L’Oréal Paris-MRA Team Science Award, which explores the origins of melanoma, including the disease’s development and progression. For every social share now through Labor Day, L’Oréal Paris will donate $1 to MRA to fund the L’Oréal Paris – MRA Team Science Award, up to $250,000 in 2015.

The audience at the Miami #ItsThatWorthIt event.

The audience at the Miami #ItsThatWorthIt event.

Here is how to participate in the #It’sTHATWorthIt campaign:

  1. Create a 15 second video or photo sharing with your social community why SPF protection or using sunless tanner is worth it to you.
  2. Share the video or photo via Insta-video/Instagram, Facebook and/or Twitter with hashtag #ItsTHATWorthIt
  3. Get your unique social media community involved by tagging three friends in your post.

Check out some of our videos on Instagram!

Don’t use social media? L’Oréal is also donating $1 from sales of select SPF and sunless tanning products now through December 31, 2015.

Partners like L’Oréal help to spread awareness about the reality of melanoma and why prevention is critical, and it also helps MRA to further our mission of ending death and suffering from melanoma by supporting research.

Through the support of our partners like L’Oréal and you, we can help prevent and find meaningful cures for melanoma. Please join us and share why #ItsTHATWorthIt to you.

Leveraged Finance Fights Melanoma Raises $1.6 Million for Melanoma Research

By Jennifer Engel
Development Manager, Foundations and Campaigns

LFFM blog pic

On May 19, the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) took over Rockefeller Center for its Fourth Annual Leveraged Finance Fights Melanoma (LFFM) cocktail event.  As a customary kick-off to summer, industry executives gathered to raise funds for melanoma research and learn about the importance of early detection and sun safety.

The 2015 LFFM event raised a record $1.6 million for MRA’s research programs, bringing the total amount generated since the event’s inception to more than $5 million. Specifically, the funds raised from the 2015 LFFM event will provide support for four new MRA research awards in the areas of targeted and immunotherapy treatments.  These projects address critical research questions to advance the development of new therapies for melanoma patients and inform our understanding of cancer more broadly.

With men twice as likely to die from melanoma, the leveraged finance industry is a great way to reach men and remind them to protect themselves and their loved ones from the sun’s harmful rays. Guests perused sun-safety merchandise from MRA’s corporate partners to raise additional dollars and also signed up for the annual skin check pledge.

We are so thankful to all the incredible LFFM sponsors and supporters. To learn more about the LFFM event or request to be added to the 2016 invitation list, please email JEngel@curemelanoma.org.

About The Author

Jennifer Engel is the Development Manager, Foundations and Campaigns for the Melanoma Research Alliance.

Kicking off Melanoma Awareness Month

Today marks the start of Melanoma Awareness Month, a time of reflection and, indeed, excitRates of melanoma are increasing.ement in the field of melanoma research. Eight new drugs have been approved for melanoma in five years, which is remarkable progress.

But the death rate for patients with advanced melanoma is still high. As rates of melanoma continue to rise, prevention and early detection are the best strategy for improving outcomes in melanoma.

Melanoma of the skin is one of the most common cancers in the United States – among the top 10 causes of new cancer cases.

Here are some easy ways you can help during Melanoma Awareness Month:

  • Increase Awareness: Take steps to learn how to reduce your risk of developing melanoma. View our Melanoma Awareness Resources.
  • Spread the Word: We’ll be sharing information throughout the month on social media and encourage you to share as well. Feel free to use our infographics.
  • Get To Know Our Partners: Many of our corporate partners are launching promotional campaigns during the month of May that will benefit MRA. View our list of corporate partners and consider supporting them.

Thanks for helping to raise awareness about melanoma!

Breakthrough Medicine: Highlights from Milken Institute’s Global Conference

Earlier this week, Melanoma Research Alliance Chief Science Officer Louise Perkins, PhD, moderated a panel at the 2015 Milken Institute Global Conference. Titled “Breakthrough Medicine: Will Finding a Cure Be Just the Start of Saving Lives?” the panel featured experts across the medical landscape, from industry to practitioners to insurers. With new therapies showing real promise and a national focus on precision medicine, this is an exciting time for science, yet challenges remain.

“The cost to create breakthrough drugs threatens to break the innovators who develop them, as well as the institutes who pick up the tab to pull them forward,” said Dr. Perkins.

Read more about the panel on the Milken Institute’s Currency of Ideas blog or watch the video.

A Patient’s Take on MRA’s Scientific Retreat

Melanoma patient and blogger T.J. Sharpe attended the Melanoma Research Alliance’s Scientific Retreat last month. While the retreat is primarily intended as a way for doctors and researchers to share the latest information on melanoma research, we try to include patients, foundations, families and others who care about melanoma. T.J.’s blog post offers a unique look at the retreat, from a patient’s perspective.  

Melanoma Patient T.J. Sharpe at MRA

Patient T.J. Sharpe at the Melanoma Research Alliance Scientific Retreat

Top 10 melanoma buzzwords from the Melanoma Research Alliance’s Scientific Retreat

1. Momentum

Melanoma is leading the way on the crest of the immunotherapy treatments. I couldn’t get an active number of melanoma clinical trials involving immunotherapies, but it’s in the double digits (unfortunately, many – like mine – are already closed to new participants). Counting targeted therapies and combination trials pushes that number higher. These researchers really are at the cutting edge of oncology.

It’s not just melanoma that benefits, either. Last week, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s anti-PD-1 Opdivo gained expanded approval to treat Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC). In the last year, Opdivo received breakthrough designation for Hodgkin lymphoma, and Merck’s Keytruda got the same for NSCLC. Related, Genetech’s PD-L1 drug MPDL3280A, which operates similarly to PD-1, was given breakthrough status for NSCLC after already being granting it for bladder cancer.

2. Progress

The very first presentation opened up with the question, “When do we get to stop comparing to chemotherapy?” With six approved targeted immunotherapies in the last four years (plus one combination), the question probably should be “Why are we even using chemotherapy anymore?”  Between the existing approvals and the pipeline of clinical trials using combinations and/or new drugs, chemotherapy should be a thing of the past for nearly all melanoma patients by the MRA’s 10th Scientific Retreat in 2018.

3. Collaboration

The entire conference – heck, most of the HOTEL – was focused on sharing trial data and its implications. The 250 attendees were made up of about 70 percent researchers, and side conversations were rarely about anything BUT melanoma. I got in a word about German Shepherds to one oncologist, whose wife breeds them and gave one to a college friend. Otherwise, this was all about rustling the coats out of the labs and into a room to share, converse and question. There was even a little spirited ad-hoc “discussion” over BRAF during one of the Q&A sessions – it was somewhat humorous to hear biochemistry being hotly debated (even if you don’t understand either side). This is how treatments, and cures, get accelerated.

4. Ecosystem

Among its multiple references at the retreat, this was brought up in discussions connecting skin cancer prevention, earlier skin cancer detection, and treatments addressing melanomas before they reach the critical metastatic phase. There was an entire panel devoted to prevention and early detection, which may not have the scientific splash of “curing cancer” but is by far the most effective treatment.

Yervoy, the first immunotherapy to make a big splash, is now being considered by the FDA as an adjuvant treatment of Stage 3 melanomas that have been surgically removed. (An adjuvant is given after an initial treatment, such as surgery or radiation, has removed detectable cancer.) This is great news, as stage 3 patients are at a high risk for recurrence but have limited treatment options until they are reclassified as Stage 4.

5. Urgency

There was a common theme of “not being satisfied with good enough”, speaking in terms of both science and regulation. It isn’t enough that new drugs show improvement; work will continue until melanoma is eradicated. Nor are the headlines generated by recent breakthroughs sufficient, when there are still patients worldwide with limited knowledge or access to the best treatments. As an example of urgency meeting progress, Keytruda is now available in the UK in their Early Access to Medicines Scheme (EAMS), allowing British patients to access the medicine even before U.K. regulatory approval.

6. Complexity

There is the targeting of co-stimulator pathways like ICOS, 41BB, CTLA-4; LAG3, BTLA checkpoint inhibitors; and PI3K mechanisms, JAK1 and RNF125 binds were all discussed. Complex enough, or do you want examples?   These guys are S-M-A-R-T.

7. Brilliance

See above.

8. Combinations

Targeted combinations were presented, including potential additions to the toolbox of BRAF and MEK inhibitor drugs. UCLA researchers recently uncovered how melanoma eventually resists these targeted therapies, by developing genetic changes in certain cancer genes. Reversing these changes or shutting them off completely with a new drug/new combination would delay or even eliminate the resistance that occurs in most targeted therapy patients.

Priority review has also recently been granted for the combination of Genetech BRAF drugs cobimetinib and vemurafenib (Zelboraf). Combinations have been a hot topic since last year’s ASCO “Melanoma Monday” campaign presented initial data on several studies that showed extremely strong responses to multiple therapies.

9. Determination

Getting a new cancer drug to market isn’t just dropping a bunch of tumor cells inside a lab rat and seeing which compounds work best (there was one discussion that even concluded with “So now we should see what happens in human patients…”). This takes hours and hours per day, days and days per month, then months and months over years just to get a chance to utter that line. Finding the molecular needle in the haystack is more than divide and conquer, too. There is a special kind of dedication that goes into the extended search for a cure – one that spans entire careers building knowledge and experience looking for that breakthrough moment.

10. Hope

All the acronyms, molecular-this and pathway-that process into one conclusion: There are a significant number of irons in the melanoma fire, many having startling efficacy. These forward-looking presentations provide the one thing all cancer patients cling to – the hope of being one of the “lucky” ones whose biology happens to respond to available treatments. Research is finding long-term survival plateaus around year 3 for Yervoy patients, and this rate holds steady going out many years.

Jim Allison closed the retreat down with the observation that those long-term survivors are dying of something other than melanoma. The momentum of current progress, the urgency of collaboration, and the brilliant combinations of the complex treatment ecosystems has given me hope and determination to prove Dr. Allison right. Dying of old age would be a happy ending to this blog, wouldn’t it?

This blog post originally appeared on Philly.com. Read the original post.

Dateline Chicago: MRA and GRACE Immunotherapy Forum

By Louise M. Perkins, PhD

Immunotherapy Patient Forum collage

Dr. Jedd Wolchok & Rusty Cline, Carlea Bauman & Wendy Selig, Drs. Wolchok, Louise Perkins & Suzanne Topalian, Drs. Michael Atkins, Drew Pardoll & Wolchok

On Sunday October 26, MRA and its partner GRACE (Global Resource for Advancing Cancer Education) held a forum for patients/caregivers with melanoma, kidney cancer and lung cancer at the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Chicago.  Despite the fact that it was a gorgeous day outside—warm and sunny for Chicago in late October—nearly 60 patients/caregivers attended the forum from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm.  The meeting format involved a general session with a series of talks followed by a panel discussion centered on questions from the audience. In addition, there was a lunchtime disease-specific breakout for melanoma, kidney cancer or lung cancer.  There was a lot of energy throughout the day and it was gratifying to see a full house for the meeting!

The content reflected the world-class expertise of the presenters who spoke from their various perspectives covering not only the hard-core science behind immunotherapy (Drew Pardoll) but also clinical insights offered by Michael Atkins, Matthew Helmann, Jason Luke, Sumanta Pal, Suzanne Topalian, and Jedd Wolchok.  We were thrilled to also have presentations by Rusty Cline, a Stage IV melanoma patient who told of his experience with the disease and the current success he is having with anti-PD-1 therapy and Marianne Davis, NP who gave a superb description of immunotherapy side-effects and their management.

I had the pleasure of moderating the melanoma session at which Drs. Suzanne Topalian and Jedd Wolchok spoke on what have we learned from clinical studies to date and the future of melanoma immunotherapy.  If you don’t know it, Drs. Topalian and Wolchok are true giants in the field, as well as MRA-funded investigators and strong supporters of MRA.  Dr. Wolchok heads the Melanoma and Immunotherapy Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and has been involved in many ground-breaking clinical programs with anti-CTLA4 and anti-PD-1 drugs for melanoma patients. In addition to her outstanding research on melanoma and immunotherapy biomarkers, Dr. Topalian was my predecessor as MRA’s Chief Science Officer, is chair of our Scientific Advisory Panel and is an MRA Board Member. Whew!  It is awe-inspiring to be with these two and we were honored to have them there to share their insights directly with the melanoma patients in the room.

You may be thinking, “Rats—I wish I could’ve been there!”  Well, stay tuned as the entire meeting was filmed and the video should be available via our website in a few weeks.

Altogether, this was a fantastic meeting and I’ll leave you with just a few comments from the presenters that encapsulate the day. Dr. Matthew Hellman remarked that over a century’s worth of laboratory and clinical research is yielding the first fruits of significant progress in the use of immunotherapy against cancer. As Dr. Drew Pardoll stated, now is the time to re-think how we do cancer research based on major advances in immunotherapy for melanoma, lung and kidney cancers.   And as pointed out by Dr. Wolchok, this success with immunotherapy is just the beginning of the end.  We couldn’t agree more.  Let’s just make sure we keep pushing to get to the end as soon as possible.

About the Author

Louise Perkins HeadshotLouise M. Perkins, Ph.D., joined the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) as Chief Science Officer in 2013 where she is responsible for the development and implementation of MRA’s scientific strategy.  Her interests center on translational research with specific concentration on genomics, drug discovery and the advancement of novel therapeutic approaches. Prior to joining MRA, she was Chief Scientific Officer at the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) for five years following a research career of 16 years at two major pharmaceutical companies.

Why We Stand Up to Melanoma

By Wendy Selig, MRA President & CEO

SU2C 2014 wendy selig and ryan selig

Wendy Selig with her son Ryan

It might have been easy to get caught up in the glitz and glamour of a star-studded Hollywood event this past week in LA as Stand Up To Cancer held its latest prime-time broadcast in support of cancer research.   After all, some of us had the chance to enter the historic theater via a red-carpet lined with paparazzi.  And during the show itself, every few minutes for the entire hour a different A-list celebrity appeared on the stage.

But there was something much more personal and powerful going on in that room where celebrities were coming together with cancer researchers and doctors, foundations, corporations, patients and their families.  It was the sense of hope and promise that these cancer survivors brought to the event that made it most impactful.   Their courage, resilience and resolve is what inspires me most.  The evening really brought home just how important it is for all of us to work together in collaborations that will defeat cancer in all of its forms.

I was fortunate to be there on behalf of the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA), saluting the life-saving work of our MRA-SU2C Melanoma Dream Team and the Melanoma component of the CRI-SU2C Immunology Dream Team.  These brilliant scientists and physicians have dedicated their professional lives to understanding how melanoma works and designing ways to stop this deadly killer in its tracks.

It was an honor to meet one of the melanoma patients profiled during the broadcast – a lovely woman named Kathy whose doctor, Toni Ribas from UCLA, is an MRA-funded investigator and member of our Medical Advisory Panel.   Despite having been extremely sick as a result of her cancer just months ago, Kathy is now back to living her life, thanks to the exciting progress that has been made in delivering new immunotherapy treatments.  Kathy’s strong desire to be there for her children and new grandchild, brings home the promise and hope we all feel as a result of recent progress, including new therapies like the anti-PD-1 therapy approved just last week by the FDA.

But even with all of the good news coming in the melanoma field, we know that our work is far from finished.   For every story like Kathy’s, there are still too many stories of people who are suffering from this beast.  As I write this, we have just learned of the tragic loss of a young woman named Jackie to this terrible disease.   She was only 22 and, though she fought with such grace and courage for more than two years, she passed away this week.

And that’s why MRA, working with our partners at Stand Up To Cancer and dozens of other allies across sectors, won’t rest until we’ve arrived at the day when no one suffers or dies from melanoma.  That’s why we’ve just launched our next Request For Proposals soliciting high-impact projects from researchers around the world.   We plan to fund at least $7 million in our next grant cycle, building upon the $60 million we’ve already invested.  And that’s why we seek to engage more people in our mission through alliances and collaborations to fund more life-saving research to accelerate progress toward cures for melanoma.

About the Author

Wendy Selig 2013Wendy K.D. Selig is President and CEO of the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA), a public charity focused on finding and funding the most promising translational melanoma research worldwide that will accelerate progress toward a cure.  Ms. Selig drives and manages MRA’s strategic priorities, research portfolio, engagement with more than 90 corporate and non-profit Allies, and day-to-day operations. MRA, founded by Debra and Leon Black under the auspices of the Milken Institute, is the largest private funder of melanoma research.